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Nigeria Masterweb News Report

    Custody Fight: Court Disagrees with Mom on Child's Identity

    (Monday, March 11, 2002)

    By Chief Charles O. Okereke, Nigeria Masterweb

    Longy Anyanwu(Left) with lawyer Lisa Curry A child custody battle intensified in a New Jersey court on Thursday, March 7, 2002, with Mom saying this "is not my child" on video, and the special master saying she was. Conflicting statements, are they not? Yes, surely they are. Someone is not telling the truth, but lying. Uchechi Anyanwu, the daughter that Edith and Longy Anyanwu have fought for but not seen in over four years appeared on videotape in court Thursday. The video was an interviewed in Nigeria by East Orange lawyer, Francis Asokwu Sea, a special master appointed by the court to find the child in Nigeria. When Edith Anyanwu, saw the video of the girl dressed in a blue sports jersey, she murmured the girl was not her missing daughter. Edith reaffirmed this position through her attorney, Thomas Snyder, that she did not believe the on-screen girl to be Uchechi. The special master claimed otherwise. Attorney Sea told the court at Thursday’s hearing he strongly believed the teenager to be Uchechi Anyanwu. He said the girl personally told him(as she also said on the videotape) that she was happy and wanted the court to release her father from jail. Sea said that the first question the teenager asked him was, "Why is the court believing my mother and putting my father in jail?’"

    The girl according to the videotape wants to continue her high school education in Nigeria this summer, and then attend college in the United States. She said she would like to live with her father once in the States. Under questioning to why she would prefer living with her father to her mother, she said she was closer to him than her mother. Uchechi on video pleaded, "Please release my father and allow him to continue his life." She continued, "Please, I’m begging, tell them to release my father." She professed love for both parents, even though she was closer to her father. She said she knew the love they once had for each other had changed but wished they would move on with their lives instead of a court battle.

    Superior Court Judge Salem V. Ahto ordered later during the day, the release of 53-year-old Longy Anyanwu. Ahto said he was satisfied that Uchechi Anyanwu had been found to be safe and healthy in Nigeria, and desperately wanted her father released. The judge in his release order stated "In my view, enough has been done to this young woman, and I will not be the one to further disrupt her life, dampen her wishes, her desires or her goals." and continued, "A higher tribunal than I will have to disappoint her. I will not." Edith Anyanwu’s lawyers, sped to the appellate division after Ahto’s decision but were rebuffed by Judge Donald G. Collester Jr., who turned down their request for a stay. As a last ditch, attorney Thomas Snyder(Edith's lawyer) argued for a stay in a conference call to Peter G. Verniero, a state Supreme Court justice, while the father’s lawyer, Michael K. Furey, asked for release. Justice Verniero granted a stay of Anyanwu’s release, pending his review of both Uchechi's video interview and the audiotape of Ahto’s decision. Verniero could make good on the stay, rescind it and order Anyanwu’s release this weekend, or could decide discussing the case with other justices at their conference Tuesday.

    While the Anyanwus were in Nigeria on a visit in 1997, Longy Anyanwu separated their two daughters from his wife handing them over to relatives. They had quarreled. The two returned to the States without the children Uchechi and Ogechi. Upon return to the United States a child custody battle ensued. Longy Anyanwu was jailed when he defied a court order to produce the children on three days' notice. He has been in jail since then. Ogechi, born with an intestinal disorder, died in Nigeria later the same year of malnutrition.

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